NameWilliam I “The Conqueror”
Birth14 Oct 1024, Falaise, Normandy, France
Death9 Oct 1087, Rouen, France
BurialSt Stephen, Caen, Mormandy
MotherHerleve (Harlette) of Falaise (~1003-~1050)
Misc. Notes
William, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy, spent his first six years with his mother in Falaise and received the duchy of Normandy upon his father's death in 1035. A council consisting of noblemen and William's appointed guardians ruled Normandy but ducal authority waned under the Normans' violent nature and the province was wracked with assassination and revolt for twelve years. In 1047, William reasserted himself in the eastern Norman regions and, with the aid of France's King Henry I, crushed the rebelling barons. He spent the next several years consolidating his strength on the continent through marriage, diplomacy, war and savage intimidation. By 1066, Normandy was in a position of virtual independence from William's feudal lord, Henry I of France and the disputed succession in England offered William an opportunity for invasion.
Edward the Confessor attempted to gain Norman support while fighting with his father-in-law, Earl Godwin, by purportedly promising the throne to William in 1051. (This was either a false claim by William or a hollow promise from Edward; at that time, the kingship was not necessarily hereditary but was appointed by the witan, a council of clergy and barons.) Before his death in 1066, however, Edward reconciled with Godwin, and the witan agreed to Godwin's son, Harold, as heir to the crown - after the recent Danish kings, the members of the council were anxious to keep the monarchy in Anglo-Saxon hands. William was enraged and immediately prepared to invade, insisting that Harold had sworn allegiance to him in 1064. Prepared for battle in August 1066, ill winds throughout August and most of September prohibited him crossing the English Channel. This turned out to be advantageous for William, however, as Harold Godwinson awaited William's pending arrival on England's south shores, Harold Hardrada, the King of Norway, invaded England from the north. Harold Godwinson's forces marched north to defeat the Norse at Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066. Two days after the battle, William landed unopposed at Pevensey and spent the next two weeks pillaging the area and strengthening his position on the beachhead. The victorious Harold, in an attempt to solidify his kingship, took the fight south to William and the Normans on October 14, 1066 at Hastings. After hours of holding firm against the Normans, the tired English forces finally succumbed to the onslaught. Harold and his brothers died fighting in the Hastings battle, removing any further organized Anglo-Saxon resistance to the Normans. The earls and bishops of the witan hesitated in supporting William, but soon submitted and crowned him William I on Christmas Day 1066. The kingdom was immediately besieged by minor uprisings, each one individually and ruthlessly crushed by the Normans, until the whole of England was conquered and united in 1072. William punished rebels by confiscating their lands and allocating them to the Normans. Uprisings in the northern counties near York were quelled by an artificial famine brought about by Norman destruction of food caches and farming implements.
The arrival and conquest of William and the Normans radically altered the course of English history. Rather than attempt a wholesale replacement of Anglo-Saxon law, William fused continental practices with native custom. By disenfranchising Anglo-Saxon landowners, he instituted a brand of feudalism in England that strengthened the monarchy. Villages and manors were given a large degree of autonomy in local affairs in return for military service and monetary payments. The Anglo-Saxon office of sheriff was greatly enhanced: sheriffs arbitrated legal cases in the shire courts on behalf of the king, extracted tax payments and were generally responsible for keeping the peace. "The Domesday Book" was commissioned in 1085 as a survey of land ownership to assess property and establish a tax base. Within the regions covered by the Domesday survey, the dominance of the Norman king and his nobility are revealed: only two Anglo-Saxon barons that held lands before 1066 retained those lands twenty years later. All landowners were summoned to pay homage to William in 1086. William imported an Italian, Lanfranc, to take the position of Archbishop of Canterbury; Lanfranc reorganized the English Church, establishing separate Church courts to deal with infractions of Canon law. Although he began the invasion with papal support, William refused to let the church dictate policy within English and Norman borders.
He died as he had lived: an inveterate warrior. He died September 9, 1087 from complications of a wound he received in a siege on the town of Mantes.
"The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" gave a favorable review of William's twenty-one year reign, but added, "His anxiety for money is the only thing on which he can deservedly be blamed; . . .he would say and do some things and indeed almost anything . . .where the hope of money allured him." He was certainly cruel by modern standards, and exacted a high toll from his subjects, but he laid the foundation for the economic and political success of England.


William was described by a Norman monk "as a burly warrior with a harsh gutteral voice, great in stature but not
ungainly" - probably 5'10", full-fleshed in face, of "russet hair" {-"William the Conqueror...," David C. Douglas
[London, 1966]}. A primary source by a contemporary is "The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy,"
Ordericus Vitalis, trans. Thomas Forester (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854). ----- Compton's Encyclopedia (America
On-Line, 1995): William I (born 1027, ruled 1066-87), called William the Conqueror, was an illegitimate son of Robert
I, duke of Normandy. His mother was a tanner's daughter. William succeeded his father when he was only 7 years old.
At 24 he had made himself the mightiest feudal lord in all France by various conquests, but his ambition was not
satisfied. He laid plans to become king of England also. William married Matilda, daughter of Baldwin V, count of
Flanders, in 1053. She was descended from the old Anglo-Saxon line of kings. Among their children were four sons:
Robert, future duke of Normandy; Richard, who died as a youth; William Rufus, who succeeded his father as king of
England; and Henry, who succeeded William Rufus. One daughter, Adela, became the mother of England's King
Stephen. Edward the Confessor, king of England, was William's cousin. William used his connection with Flanders to
put pressure on Edward to extort a promise that he would become heir to the English throne. It is probable that Edward
made some kind of pledge to William as early as 1051. Edward died childless on Jan. 5, 1066. William then claimed the
throne on the basis of this promise. The English, however, chose Harold, earl of Wessex, as their king. William
prepared a large expedition and set sail for England. On Oct. 14, 1066, he defeated and killed Harold at Hastings in one
of the decisive battles of the world (see Hastings, Battle of). Then he marched on London, and on Christmas day he was
crowned king. After subduing England's powerful earls, William seized their lands for his Norman nobles and ordered
the nobles to build fortified stone castles to protect their lands. As payment for their fiefs, the nobles supplied the king
with armed knights. French became the language of the king's court and gradually blended with the Anglo-Saxon
tongue. William won the loyalty of the mass of the people by wisely retaining the old Anglo-Saxon laws, courts, and
customs with only a few changes. Thus the principle of self-government, which lies at the root of the political system of
English-speaking peoples, was preserved and strengthened. At the same time, William taught the English the advantages
of a central government strong enough to control feudal lords. Toward the end of his reign, William ordered a great
census to be taken of all the lands and people of England. This survey was called Domesday Book. Two of the original
books may still be seen at the Public Records Office in London. "So very narrowly did he cause the survey to be made,"
complained the old Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "that there was not a single rood of land, nor an ox, or a cow, or a pig
passed by, and that was not set down in the accounts." William was often on the continent dealing with his widespread
holdings. He died there in 1087 from injuries received while warring with Philip I of France. William was a man of
great stature and had a tremendous voice. Such was the good order he established that, according to a quaint historian of
his time, "any man, who was himself aught, might travel over the kingdom with a bosom of gold unmolested, and no
man durst kill another, however great the injury he might have received from him." He was succeeded in Normandy by
his eldest son, Robert, and in England by his second son, William II, called William Rufus.
Spouses
Birth1032, Flanders, France
Death3 Nov 1083, Caen, Calvados, France
BurialHoly Trinity Abbey, Caen, Normandy
FatherBaldwin V Count of Flanders (1012-1067)
MotherAdelaide (1009-1079)
Marriage1053, Normandy
ChildrenHenry I (Beauclerc) (~1068-1135)
 Adela (1062-1137)
 Gundrada (~1051-1085)
ChildrenWilliam "the Elder" (~1062-1113)
Last Modified 22 Oct 1999Created 4 Sep 2012 using Reunion for Macintosh